greta valley pork
Written by Lilani Goonesena
There’s nothing quite so endearing as a week-old piglet, and everyone wants to hold one at Greta Valley Free Range Pork farm. It’s Day Three of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence produce tour in Victoria and we’re out in the green and muddy fields of Brian and Kim Smith’s 316-acre property. It’s cold and threatening rain, and the little piglets squirm in our arms, anxious to get back to mum and the warm, straw-lined farrowing shed.
It’s rare indoor time for these piglets and sows, which otherwise spend their entire lives outside.
“We have 80-odd animals and they live out in the paddocks all the time. These babies won’t venture out a lot now,” says Kim. But from three weeks, they’re running around everywhere.”
Several wooden, 3-sided sheds dot the paddock for each sow and her litter. The piglets are weaned at 6-7 weeks and go into the first of the grower paddocks, while the sows return to the boars for mating, and the cycle begins over.
Kim and Brian have been pig farmers at Greta Valley for five years. Though they had both raised animals, neither had had experience with pigs. Yet, their dedication to the free-range ethos has made their pig farm one of the best in the country and put their meat in high demand.
“Our buyers want 18-25 animals a week which is good for us but we don’t have the numbers,” explains Kim. “These are rare breed pigs; you can’t pull them out of thin air. It takes about 12 months to get them ready for market.”
“Our butchers want black piglets which are really juicy and tasty. We provide suckling pigs at 25kg. We did have little oven pigs for restaurants in the beginning but we had to stop; the abattoir workers found it too traumatic. The smallest they’ll do is 16kg, which produces a 12kg carcass.”
Greta Valley primarily breed Berkshires, which are known for their meat quality.
“They are slower to grow but have exceptional eating quality due to having both partition fat and intramuscular fat,” says Katy Brown of Glen Eyrie Rare Breeds Farm. Katy is an expert on heritage breed pigs in Australia and we’re fortunate to meet her at Greta Valley.
A handful of Large Whites were also picked for their temperament and meat. “They’re a wonderful pig with personality and they’re easy to handle,” explains Katy. “Maternal sows are good mothers, they put a lot of energy into growing good piglets. And they produce fantastic pork and bacon.”
Good genes and attentive mothers give Greta Valley piglets the healthiest start in life. There is no tail docking and constant access to dirt and grass reduces mortality from gut issues.
“In the spring and summer, all these paddocks fill with grass,” says Kim. “Our stocking densities are way below the standard of 15 sows per acre. We run 10 per hectare. I think that’s why we have grass year round.
“In winter, the pigs love digging up the soil and making mud.”
Our boots can attest to the thick, squelching mud as we head out to feed the pigs. They all receive specially formulated Rivalea diets.
“The piglets need to grow when they’re really young and then their diets change,” says Kim. “After weaning at 14 kg, they move onto Little Creep pellets which are high in energy and protein. Then it’s Weaner feed until 25kg when they go on a superporker, Grower diet until slaughter at 21 weeks. By then they average 68-70kg; very different to commercial pigs, which are about 120kg at market weight.”
The pigs excitedly squeal and snort as they hurry to the troughs. “They’re not hungry really; they’re greedy,” laughs Kim. “We reckon if they knocked us over, they’d just eat us too.”
Most of the gilts (female pigs) stay on the farm. At nine months, they are ready to fall pregnant. The majority are in the far paddocks where three enormous boars – CB, Arnie and Colgate – each have a harem of females.
“Usually three sows go in with the boar 4-5 days after weaning their last litter and stay until 3-4 weeks before farrowing. We scan them at 28 days and keep scanning until we find a pregnancy. Gestation is 115 days – 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days.”
Khanh Nguyen a chef at Mr Wong in Sydney is very enthusiastic about the farm. “It’s a great experience, being able to see and feed them. At Mr Wong, we use free range Berkshire pigs for our char siu pork, and marinate the meat in red bean curd. Berkshires, because of the marbling, take on the red colour so it makes the pork beautifully red. It’s also fattier and juicier which is what we want.”
Louise Naimo, a waiter at Estelle Bistro in Melbourne, is also impressed with the relationship between farmer and restaurant. “I never realised how much the restaurant trade is at the forefront of people’s awareness. We use a lot of jowl at Estelle, which is a cheap cut of meat but we cook it really well. So if people start cooking that, then it’s one step closer to having the whole pig used which is great for the farmer,” she says.
Kim agrees. She would love to see the whole animal used by restaurants, creating a more sustainable farming process.